Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Not this time.

As a girl, growing up in the 60's and 70's, I read this every day - sometimes several times a day. My dad taped this reminder on the bathroom cabinet. I hated reading it, but I always did. And, it stuck with me. I've already had skin cancer, myself. I had the Mohs procedure, and they got it, but it wasn't pleasant at all.

We were goofing off in the kitchen when I saw it. I'm certain it was because I said something derogatory like "you dumb ass." He hung his head - you know, chin to chest and I saw it. Across the room, it was very visible. I freaked and gasped saying "you have GOT to go to the doctor tomorrow." The spot was black. A small mole and two nickel sized circles with irregular edges. He is 6'1". I am 5'2". It isn't often that I see the top of his head. And who sees the top of their own head? What we couldn't figure out was that in the past few months, two different people cut his hair - his regular guy and a woman he had never seen. Neither had noticed or if they did, they didn't comment.

He got in to a doctor in two days time. The doctor referred him to a surgeon. Because he doesn't always get the facts straight and has always had memory issues, I went along. Plus, it is always good to have someone with you at such a scary time. We were called back and the surgeon told us he was going to remove it all and have it biopsied. In a short time, the black was gone, replaced by a nasty looking divot criss-crossed with a number of stitches. I commented "you have a divot in your head."

I also documented the situation, taking photos with my iPhone. I took photos before the surgery, the day of the surgery and following the surgery. "Why are we doing this?" he questioned. "Documentation." I answered. "Before, during and after." "Just don't put them on facebook" was his retort.

We waited for eight days. It was horrible. My mother has now been gone for sixteen months and all of those feelings returned. In my family, I have always been the strong one. That was/is my role. During my mother's illness and subsequent death, I had to be strong for her. I had to be there for my dad and be strong for him. As he grew more and more exhausted, I took as much responsibility as I could off of him. In the end, I was the contact person with the hospital and the one who received The Call. Sixteen months later, I like to think I'm in a better place but it all came rushing back to me.

I had to be the strong one for Doug. I worried and fussed and babied. My mind went to the darkest places - imagining inoperable tumors, illness, weight loss, even death. How would I deal with it all if that was to be? How would I have the strength? He walked through my skin cancer and surgery with me and I would do the same with him.  I told him no matter what, we would deal with it. We would do what we had to do.

They told us the biopsy results would be back 8-10 days. We went to have the stitches removed at eight days. We had no idea if they had the results or not. As the surgeon snipped stitches and pulled them out, carrying each one to the trash can before dropping it, he casually commented as if someone talking about the weather, "well, the biopsy came back completely benign." I felt my chest crumple. I leaned forward and felt it all go out of me in a rush. I almost cried. I definitely teared up. It was over.

Doug asked the surgeon if we had been too cautious. The surgeon smiled and said "well, at least you don't have to think or worry about it." I told Doug afterward that if he gets another black spot, I'll march his butt back over there and we will have it cut out, too.

We are as opposite as can be. But, somehow, it works. I'm one of those difficult women and he takes me in stride. Not too much ruffles this man. There are times he makes me insane and I get so mad I want to strangle him. But, I told him, "when faced with the thought of losing you, I decided I like having you around." We celebrated ten years this year and God willing, it looks like we'll have a few more.

Don't ignore the warning signs.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Another reason to love Kelley Rae Roberts

Do you love Kelley Rae Roberts? Oh, my goodness. I do. She is such an inspirational person.

I just listened to the first two podcasts in this series. I encourage you to find her website and tune in.

I so relate to so many things that are discussed in these two podcasts. The first podcast, Kelley Rae talks about her journey to art. And, it caused me to think about my own journey into art.

Around eight years ago, about the time I moved to Bloomington, a friend of mine started to encourage me to create. Little did I know, I was already a collage artist - I just didn't realize it. My friend, Carol Trimmer, from Muncie, IN, makes beautiful cards. Ever little bit, she would give me a card and I would exclaim every time "oh, I wish I could make cards like this!" And every time, Carol would say the same response, which was "you can." So, little by little, I started to buy paper. And look at art and books about art and creativity. Kelley Rae's book, Taking Flight, was one of the first books that inspired me. She listed what you need to create and I ran out and bought it all. This led me to a shop in Nashville, IN, Papertrix. This led to my love and use of wooden stamps. I had no knowledge of how to stamp and the owner's husband, Wayne, sat down with me and taught me how to stamp and use some special inks and pens. In time, I would work at Papertrix and demo and teach others how to use stamps and inks and pens and all sorts of products. Oh, the encouragement the owner, Cindy, gave to me and everyone who entered her shop.

My first experience with collage was in high school. My mother allowed me to cover one wall with cork and it was an ever changing collage of photos, pictures and quotes clipped from magazines and news items. After my divorce, the inside door of my closet was my world, man-bashing cartoons, anything that made me smile during a tough time in my life. I also covered the entire side of our refrigerator with expressions de moi. I remember explaining to my son how anyone could look at the side of the refrigerator and learn a lot about who I was.

Once I started making cards, and canvas pieces, I was off and running. The dining room is the one room we have not tackled since I've moved in. We have not done one thing to it and it is in dire need of help. But it has become my art room. The table is my table. There is a bench behind the table with a lot of art materials, other carts and drawers hold additional materials. Now, I have taken up sewing - so my sewing table is there. Someone recently visited my home and asked her daughter, "is Cheryl an artist? What is all of that stuff." Her daughter's reply was "I thinks she makes cards."

I remember my son commenting "do you have to put your mark on everything? I was making cards and tags and I went to a party and the hostess had decorated her wine glasses with different color beads - I raced home and did the same. As a matter of fact, I do need to put my mark on everything.

Part of my artful journey has been others giving me permission to be more artful and me giving myself permission to be more artful. Learning from the example of others such as Kelley Rae Roberts.  As Kelley Rae has grown as an artist, she has encouraged others to grow as well.

I now pen a column in a magazine out of my home town. The name of my column is "Her Artful Heart." I have learned to see art all around me and the possibility of art. Today as I listened to Kelley Rae speak of possibiltarians, I realized, I have become one myself.

Here is a link to her podcasts. Tune in and tell me what you think. I want to listen all over again! Thank you, Kelley Rae!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Like a LION

Front yard in snow more snow

This is why we decided not to keep chickens this winter

Vole or mole slipping out from beneath the snow to steal seed
March roared into southern Indiana this morning dumping an additional five to six inches of snow upon us. Snow on snow on snow. It is pretty, but it makes getting about  tough. The roads are nasty, footing is unsteady. I've slipped or something and injured my foot or ankle - some tendon or muscle or bone. Some swelling and pain. I limp about and hobble and try not to slip and fall, again. My foot was injured when I fell last Thursday morning heading in to my office. 
There is barely a place for Miss Chelsea Kabob to relieve herself. She hops into the snow, sinks, hops out and we trudge on. We wipe her feet and belly when we enter the house. 
We've gone through so much wood Doug says he will have to chip the next batch out of the snow. And the wood in the mud room was stacked to the ceiling. 
Like weary soldiers we carry on. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

No endorsements, I just know what I like!

A recent conversation at work went like this: "what kind of toilet paper do you use?" Most were saying they were not picky - whatever was on sale - they were even asking the one guy in our office who is very green if he used Seventh Generation.
I sat there for a bit and then finally chimed in - I am very picky and it has to be Charmin for my tushie - blame it on Mr. Whipple, if you so desire.
 I don't often eat hot dogs - but I love them at a ball game - or cooked over a fire. Tonight I had one of my favorite meals, ever - Echrich hot dogs, (o.k., store brand generic white bread buns),
 Lay's Barbecue Potato Chips,
 and Killian's beer. I love red and dark beers. Killian's is my favorite red beer.
Delicious. I mean, a delicious (unhealthy) meal. Recently, we had a get-together at our house and Doug bought these awful, crunchy, hard store brand barbecue potato chips. It hurt my mouth to eat them! Ever since, I've been jonsing for some Lay's Barbecue chips. Nothing like a yummy meal that reminds me of camping in summer - on a cold winter's evening. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Fault In Our Stars

I always like a book with a female protagonist and this book is no exception. Hazel Grace Lancaster is a 16 year old cancer patient. Hazel's parents make her attend a support group for teens with cancer where she meets 17 year old Augustus Waters. Hazel and Augustus share mutual admiration for one another's wit and intelligence.

The young adult novel is set in Indianapolis, where the author, John Green lives. This is of enjoyable to me as I grew up an hour from Indianapolis and am familiar with the locations Green cites.
Some say this is Green's best work. This is the only book I've read by Green, so I can't speak. Critics said that this book was inappropriate subject matter for teens - illness, depression and sexuality - to which Green responded by saying it is condescending to young adults to say they are not capable of handling such issues. In my opinion, I would side with Green - this is real stuff - unfortunately, young adults get cancer and die - young adults battle depression and young adults are sexually active. Part of the reason I write openly about what happens in my own life is with the hope that I might help someone to realize they aren't alone and that someone else has struggles as well. This is what Green has done with this book.
I haven't yet seen the movie. We all know that the book is almost always better than the movie. I've heard people say they wouldn't want to see this movie because it might be too depressing. I want to see the movie. I will have to see the movie and get back to you on that.
As for the book, yes - read it. If you have a teen, read it with them and discuss it. Green is an award winning writer - so it isn't subjective as to if he is a good writer or not - he is.
Book 1, 2015

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

All things MAGNOLIA

First, I just want to say that whenever I hear or say the word Magnolia - I feel it should be followed by the word "darlin." It is just one of those things that is meant to be.
In this case, however, the word Magnolia is followed by the word FARMS. As in Chip and Joanna Gaines of the HGTV show Fixer Upper. Are you just in love with them? I am!
I am a baby fan - as in, I just discovered them when I lay on my deathbed, I mean the sofa, vegging on HGTV, last week. I was sick, sick, sick and my favorite thing in the world - sick or otherwise, is to watch HGTV. Doug would ever so often come into the living room and perch on the sofa and say "aren't you sick of this?" Me: "nope. go away. I'm in heaven." (Except for the being sick part.)
Anytime I find something new that I'm crazy for, I do as much research as I can about the subject. I hopped online and read all about Chip and Joanna.
I mean, are they about the cutest couple ever? She is the brains and he is the brawn...

even though I have to admit he has a lot of brains, too. I see that man tear into stuff and tackle things and I think "wait, how did he know that?" I learn a lot just watching the show. I love how he unabashedly adores her and calls her Jo-Jo. That is how the man really displays his intelligence - he is always cooing about how pretty she is and how wonderful she smells. Did you see the season premiere last night? I loved it (well, I hated it actually) when Chip ate the cockroach and Joanna was all like "I'm not kissing you for a long time because it is going to take that roach about four weeks to be digested and all the way out of your body." I love how Chip isn't perfectly buff (sorry, you aren't) but how he pulls his shirt up to flaunt his stomach and act stupid. Did you see the show where he took off his clothes in the antique store and had on the old tool belt and wooden shoes? I was sick as a dog with a cough like a bark and I was about to fall off of the sofa in laughter.
I love their farm - I love how the door are usually thrown open and the cats are wandering in and out. I love how when Chip took the kids to the pound he came home with two kittens and got a dog and Jo-Jo threw a fit about it. This stuff really happens in real life and I'm sorry, but it is hilarious. Especially when it is someone else's hubs bringing home two kittens and a dog.

 I love how their kids are on the show and how comfortable the kids are with the goats and chickens. You know we are chicken people ourselves and I refer to our little piece of land as a farm or the "farmette." My daughter says it isn't really a farm until we get goats. She said it wasn't a really a farm until we had "farm animals." So, I got chickens and then it was determined that we need goats. I guess one of these days I'll have to get a couple of goats. Mostly, I think about how much our grandchildren will love seeing chickens and goats. Heck, everyone enjoys chickens and marvels at how soft they are and wants to hold them. Last night on the show Chip had a fireworks display for his children and talked about making memories for his kids. That is really what it is all about. It would be so cool to hear my granddaughters talking when they are grown and say "yeah, my grandma had chickens..."
I love, love, love this show, but mostly, I love Joanna.
This woman exudes confidence. I love her decorating style. I want to rip all of that brown Home Interior junk off of my walls and paint it with white paint and make it all chipped and rubbed and worn. I've always loved the rustic style Joanna uses and now, because of her, I love it all the more. I sit there watching HGTV and eye my walls and think about what I can do. (This is why Doug hates it when I watch HGTV.) I'm ready to tear out walls. I at least want my front of my house to look like the one from last night's show: 

Don't you just adore those industrial lights? I do!
O.k., hop on over and read Joanna's blog now and tune in and watch them - I promise, you will fall in love, too!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Me & Cheryl Strayed

Mammoth Cave National Park, 2011
 I hike. I'm a hiker. I have gone through a lot of pairs of hiking shoes and boots. And, socks. I once became friends with someone on the trail when she gave me her dry (dirty) socks to put on my feet because my socks were soaking wet.
My love of hiking was instilled in me by my mother. Our family vacations were spent tent camping. Mother would take off and the three of us kids were left to scramble and keep up with her. We followed like ducks in a row.
She was my Girl Scout leader. People thought because I had so many badges that she was easy on me but in truth, she was harder on me than any of the other girls. I really had to prove myself.  The sleeping bag I remember from my Girl Scout days was brown and had mallard ducks printed on the flannel lining. These were the kind of bags you would put in the washing machine. Mother would hang them out on the line to dry and I remember how the bag felt and smelled - the flannel kind of rough - not soft like it is, now. When we tent camped, everything smelled delicious of sunshine and grass and dirt and Off! bug spray.
Pink Dust in the Grand Canyon, 2008
 I haven't hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, but I've hiked a lot of other places.
Grand Canyon, 2008

Rocky Mountain National Park, 2005
The scene where Witherspoon is climbing the huge rocks and working to get her pack through, I leaned to Doug and said "that looks like the boulder field." The boulder field is on Long's Peak - a huge expanse of boulders that you have to maneuver your way over, around and through.
Random Internet pic of the keyhole/bounder field on Long's Peak
 Long's Peak is a fourteener - but I called it quits in the keyhole. The keyhole is at 13,000 feet, which was quite an accomplishment for me. You can see just past us in the photo, how it looks as if you are entering Mordor.

Me and Doug sitting in the keyhole on Long's Peak, 2005
 You find out a lot about yourself when you push yourself to the limit. I've always been at my happiest times when I'm out there in nature, dirty, grimy, struggling to climb a mountain or to paddle a canoe into the wind or to slither through a hole in a cave. It is during those times that I've been more than me - that I am me, but that small self who is just a tiny element out there in nature. I've been happiest when the rain is falling on top of the tent or the waves are lapping at the shoreline and it is pitch black dark and all you can see are a million stars.

I read Cheryl Strayed's book when it came out in 2012. I knew I had some things in common with her as I read it. Other parts, not so much. I didn't know when I read it that I would lose my own mother two years later.
I gave her book to someone I thought was my friend at the time. I would later learn that person was never my friend when she abandoned me when I lost my mother. She accused me of being self-centered. I agreed that I was and told her that if she could experience a loss such as mine and not be self-centered, then she was a better woman than I.

I cried when I saw the previews for the movie, and knew it would be difficult to watch. One person who wanted to go with me to the movie was my friend, Julie. You know how when one person goes out of your life, another enters? When the person who was never my friend left my life, Julie walked in. She wanted to go see the movie with me and I would have clung to her and cried. My daughter knew I wanted to see it and we talked about going together. In the end, it was good that we didn't. I probably would have alarmed her with how much I cried and for how long. In the end, it was Doug who sat beside me. Doug being his rock self. He had seen it all before. He was here for the day in day out crying of the first three months following her death.

In the book and the movie,it is implied that Cheryl Strayed's mother came to her as a fox.
 My mother has come to me as a great blue heron. It sounds crazy, but there have been so many times in these past nine months since her death that a blue heron has appeared. My mother's dying wish was to live to see my daughter's child born. Mother died on March 5, 2014 and my second granddaughter was born on June 8, 2014. Almost two hours exactly after the baby was born, a great blue heron circled overhead. After three months, I had started to realize the appearance of the great blue herons. I looked up into the sky and said out loud I know you know, mother - I know you know Aly is here.
Someone who loves me very much was recently asking me questions about the grief I've experienced since mother's passing. I don't know that I have many answers. One thing I've experienced is the feeling of being untethered. In the womb, you are tethered to your mother by the umbilical cord. And despite the fact that the cord is severed phycially at birth, I don't feel that cord is truly ever cut. Now that my mother is physically gone from this earth, I have been questioning my identity - who am I now that my mother is no longer physically present in my life? My dad asked me if I was making too much of it. I said what if I am if it is a comfort to me? I was discussing the appearance of the herons with my massage therapist and she asked me if I had looked up the meaning of the heron and I told her I had not. She answered "well, everything has meaning," and she loaned me a book on spirit animal meanings. It said that the heron was showing me how to look deeper into aspects of my life that will bring out innate wisdom and to teach me how to become more self-reliant - how to ground myself in the earth and my spiritual beliefs and how to become comfortable in uncertain situations and to be watchful. I found all of this to be incredibly interesting.

In my struggle, I've also done some stupid stuff. I didn't do heroin or have multiple partners stuff, but I've treated myself in a distructive manner at times. I've made some bad decisions and acted upon them. I've lost my self-control. I try to rise above at this point in my life - to take the high road and most certainly have not in a few situations since my mother's death. I have cried and wailed and have become angry and I've said things I shouldn't to people I shouldn't have. And throughout, my mantra has been forgiveness and peace. Forgiving myself first. Forgiving others and striving for peace. That is all I can do.

So much of the movie is so raw and real as to death and the way you miss someone. So many things ripped the band aid off for me again. You see things and they remind you. It comes slamming back. And you can hear the hospital sounds and smell the awful antiseptic, sickening smell of illness and death. The little green mouthwash sponge thing on the stick. Toward the end of my mother's life, I was the one she would allow to swab her mouth for her.

In the movie, when Witherspoon falls to her knees in anguish in the middle of the trail - that was me this past summer, gardening with all I had in me - sobbing, tears falling, clawing at the earth, ripping weeds, one moment angry and strong and the next leaning forward on my hands and knees, falling forward, watering the earth with my tears. Doug saw all of that. It would break his heart and I would wave him away.

 My healing from the loss of my mother isn't yet complete. Some people tell me it will never be. Some tell me the second year is even more difficult than the first. I do know that the most growth comes from the most difficult times.

Last photo of mother and me
I hiked this past summer on mother's birthday, July 12. It was a beautiful day and I hiked at one of her favorite spots at one of her favorite parks. I felt her presence with me.
I'm thankful for the raw story of Cheryl Strayed's Wild and the movie. Now I want to go back and read the book again. I know there are those who think I'm too open at times. This is the life of a writer. Tonight, we got into the car and Doug spoke. I said I don't want to talk.
All I wanted to do was run home to the keyboard and write.
Cheryl K. Bennett

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Good riddance 2014

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that this time last year my mother was ill.
 My granddaughter, Little Bee, was here in Indiana for a visit from February 25 to 28. Then on the 28th, she and I flew back east and we celebrated her birthday a week early. Interestingly enough, if we had celebrated Little Bee's birthday on her actual birthday, I probably wouldn't have been here when my mother passed away.
I returned home on March 2nd and Mother died on March the 5th. 
After she passed, 2014 began for me. I hadn't even bought a 2014 calendar until after I lost mother. About ten days after mother passed, I started working out again. When a loved on is ill and you sit around in the hospital, you eat. Or, at least I did. I wanted to look nice at my son's wedding.
At the end of March I started my part-time job at the nursery. I also volunteered at one of our Lotus events, Lotus Blossoms. And, I went to see the Punch Brothers in concert - for the third time!
The first weekend in April, my friend Stefanie invited herself to visit. She asked me "do you like how I invite myself?" As a matter of fact, I did. She was finishing her studies to be a mortician. When she arrived she said "not everyone wants to talk about death - but talk to me." I talked and talked. It was much needed. I worked three weekends in April at the nursery and we started to have committee member meetings with my volunteer organization, Lotus.
In May I flew out to Durham, NC from the 15th to 18th for my future daughter-in-law's bridal shower. During that trip we went to look at wedding dresses and I was fortunate enough to be along when she found The Dress. Following my return to IN, the next weekend,  we visited Doug's family in Goshen from the 24th to 26th. 
June brought the birth of my second granddaughter, Alexandria Joy, on June 8. This little gal lives up to her name as she rarely cries, always has a smile on her face and is very easy going. We were able to see one of my favorite groups in downtown Indianapolis, The Avett Brothers.
In July, we all returned to Durham, NC from the 2nd to the 6th for my son's wedding on July the 5th. The wedding was held in my daughter-in-law's home church, with the reception at The Museum of Life and Science, which was a lot of fun for everyone. On July 22nd, I celebrated my first anniversary with the Travel Department at the University. I'm thankful to have finally found a job at IU which is a great fit for me.
From August 14 to 17, I flew out to MD to see my girls.
On September 15, Doug welcomed his first grand child, a girl. A dear friend of mine from my Ball State days, Cathy, visited, as well as our friend Amy, from Hilo, HI. Several months of work for our world music festival culminated on the third weekend of September.
In October my BSU friend, Cathy, returned for a weekend and then in the end of the month I headed to White Bluff, TN to visit my life long friend, Bec.
The second weekend in November, Doug's son and wife brought Doug's new granddaughter to visit. The third weekend in November, another dear BSU friend, Liz, came for a visit and she went with me to get my second tattoo on the 15th. From November 24 to December 1, I headed to MD to visit my daughter and her wife and my two granddaughters.
From December 5-8, we returned to Goshen to visit Doug's family and celebrate his mother's birthday. All of his five siblings gathered from IN, IL and Idaho. From December 23-28, I returned to MD to celebrate Christmas with my girls.
I say Good Riddance because 2014 was a tough year. This year I had to try to learn to live without my mother. Every holiday, birthday, birth, wedding, celebration, my thoughts turned to her. I have been blessed by my many loving friends and family members who have helped me to be positive. The advice I received was to rest. I rested. There were times I floated through. Gardening is always therapeutic and it was especially so this year. I often gardened with tears running down my face. With loss comes new beginnings. I'm closer to my dad than I've ever been before. I have a new granddaughter and a new daughter in law. There was a lot of good - but there were a lot of tough times, too.
I am looking forward to see what 2015 has to offer. I look forward to a better year.
I live for these two.

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